Flowers, teddy bears, and other gifts at Tina's memorial. All photos via Greg Gallinger.
More than 1,000 people gathered in Winnipeg on Tuesday night to honour the memory of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl whose body was found in a bag and wrapped in plastic, somewhere along Manitoba’s Red River on Sunday.
The peaceful mass of people marched from the Alexander Docks to Oodena Circle, where candles were lit to commemorate Tina, as well as a “homeless hero” named Faron Hall, who in 2009, had rescued a teen from drowning in the same river Tina was found. Faron’s body was found in the Red River, but his death is not being treated as suspicious.
Tina is now among the rising number of aboriginal girls and women who have gone missing or been murdered in Canada, which at last count totaled 1,181 from 1980 until November 2013.
Tina was last seen in downtown Winnipeg on Aug. 8 and was reported missing the following day. Tina had recently moved to Manitoba’s capital following her father’s brutal murder to live under the care of Child and Family Services. She had lived in Manitoba’s capital for less than a month before her body was discovered.
Her death is being treated as a homicide.
A mourner at the memorial.
Matt Bushby was at the vigil not only to honour Tina, but also to remember his fiancee, Claudette Osborne, who has been missing since July 25, 2008. He said he was pleased to see how many people showed up to commemorate Tina and Faron.
“There’s so many people that just have no idea this is taking place,” he said. “If you had 1,200 white women go missing, there would be such a hue and cry.”
Many who only learned of Tina when her body was identified and her picture appeared in the newspaper attended the vigil to show their concern and support. To Matt Bushby, unfortunately, Tina’s story hits much closer to home.
“My children bring their mother up on a daily basis. There is no closure and the grieving never ends,” he said. “How many more is it going to take? How many more women to go missing and murdered is it going to take for the government to step up and do their job?”
When it comes to a plan of action, Bushby thinks a national inquiry is the answer. The UN has urged Harper’s Conservative government to do so—a request that has fallen on deaf ears.
“I really think that’s why the Harper government doesn’t want to do the inquiry, it’s going to show underfunding in so many areas with indigenous people. It will go against what their policy is right now, which is restraint,” he said.
Not everyone agrees that a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women is the solution.
“An inquiry will not be helpful,” said Michael Champagne, founder of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, a youth movement based out of Winnipeg’s North End. “Those funds could be used to empower indigenous communities directly.”
Champagne says missing and murdered aboriginal women are the barrier to reconciliation between the aboriginal communities and Canada’s federal government.
“Tina is a strong example to our community and our country,” Champagne said. “There will be no reconciliation in this country until we care for all of our women and children the same way. I’m at a loss for what I can do as a community member, to convince other people how it feels to lose a sister, or to not know where your relative is.”
Colonization and oppression, he says, are the root cause of the disappearance and murder of aboriginal girls and women in Canada. But he understands that to the average Canadian, those words mean very little. “When I think about what is the actual root of what’s going on, I think it’s the oversight of Canadians to help their own.”
“To use two very recent examples, looking at my social media timeline, I see a lot of outrage and concern for something that’s happening in Missouri. And rightfully so, because the situation in Ferguson is terrible. But, that’s what I’m talking about. It’s the propensity of Canadians to ignore the local problems so they can pay attention to the fashionable one,” Champagne said.
Police believe Tina ran away from Child and Family Services before her disappearance. Her best friend Tarya Pakoo, 12, wrote in a Facebook status that she slept with a sweater Tina had given her after learning of her death and she remembers a sleepover they had not too long ago.
“She told me she did not feel loved,” Tarya said.